The new Google Maps is now open to the public. 
There are big changes made to the web interface, which will revolutionize the way we use, view, and search for local places in the future. These changes will have an impact on the local marketing strategies for many businesses, so it is advisable to plan ahead and learn more about the new Google Maps.
The new and improved Google Maps is currently available to a handful of users through an invite-only basis. However, it is only a matter of time before these changes are officially implemented for the worldwide public. As we approach this new era of local search marketing, let's take an initial look at some of the key features introduced by the new Google Maps.
How It Works
When you look at the new Google Maps, you will immediately notice a striking change in its visual interface. For starters, the left hand navigation pane is removed. Instead, the entire screen consists of a comprehensive view of the map. There is a search navigation box positioned in the top left hand corner of the screen. As you search for a location, your results will be displayed, labelled, and pinpointed directly on the map.
When you search for a business keyword, all of the relevant businesses in proximity to the location will appear directly on the map. Each business is marked by a location marker, and the business name will be prominently displayed on the map. There will also be unique icons to identify the different types of businesses in the surrounding area.
Each business location comes with an info card containing the name, address, and phone number (NAP), along with the hours of operation, street directions, photos, website, and reviews. This info card will appear below the search box after you type in a specific query. It will also pop up when you click a location marker on the interactive map.
The info card plays a significant role in presenting your business to potential customers, so there is no room for mistakes with the details of your business. Check your account dashboard to ensure your NAP is inputted correctly and precisely. Otherwise, you may confuse your customers with inaccurate or conflicting information, causing them to avoid your business and click on another nearby business query instead.
It is also important to establish consistency with your business name, address, and phone number in your overall local marketing strategy. Maintaining a consistent NAP will strengthen local signals, which will help increase online authority and improve your business visibility in search engine rankings.
One interesting feature in the new Google Maps is the ability to filter your local search results based on reviews by other users. There are two filters available: 'Top Reviewers' and 'Your Circles'. If these filters are used, the map will update to display businesses that are rated favourably by your peers.
Recently, Google Maps has adopted a star system for grading business reviews. This star system will score your business out of 5 stars, and the grade will be displayed whenever you click on the location marker in the map.
More than ever, business reviews are crucial in determining the visibility of your business in local search results. Imagine if your business shows up in the map among many other competitors nearby. Having a high review score and a large number of reviews can be the two key factors that give you an edge over other businesses.
It is safe to say that businesses with no reviews or many unfavourable reviews might be at a disadvantage when the new Google Maps is launched. In order to establish an authoritative presence in the local search results, businesses should make a habit of acquiring reviews from their customers on a consistent basis.
The new Google Maps places emphasis on generating personalized search results based on user activity and intelligent recommendations. As you search for queries and publish reviews under your Google+ account, Google Maps will begin making custom recommendations specifically for you. In particular, it has been stated that reviews from your friends will influence the business recommendations that show up in your search results.
In the future, the social activities in your Google+ will most likely influence the business recommendations made by Google Maps. It may be a wise strategy to encourage your customers to publish reviews and also add your business contacts to their Google+ circles. This can help increase the visibility of your business and spread your influence across the local search results.
There is an increasingly prominent trend where Google Maps and Google+ are becoming more integrated as one. Pretty soon, your business will be able to control the Google Places and Google+ settings all under one merged account, which indicates their utility is closely intertwined. You may want to get an early start at optimizing the Google+ profile for your business, especially as the social features become more essential to the functionality of the new Google Maps.
Tony is part of the Local SEO Team at Search Engine People. He dutifully manages the citation building resources, performs quality assurance, and conducts research analysis for the team.